13 August 2009
But U.S. Undersecretary for Defense Michele Flournoy said on a trip to India this week that only unarmed drones will be sold to Pakistan.
The missile-armed Predator can loiter over a target for long periods and attack by remote control, a capability that concerns India, which has had periodic border confrontations with Pakistan over the disputed mountainous Kashmir region.
Flournoy confirmed an announcement last month by General Atomics Aeronautical Systems that short-range drones for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance operations would be supplied to Pakistan.
"We have put only two unarmed tactical UAVs, Scan Eagle and Shadow, on the table. They are not armed drones,'' she said.
The Predator model on offer to countries including Pakistan are stripped down versions of the MQ-1 armed drones the U.S. military uses in the Afghanistan and Pakistan theater as well as in Iraq. But they are without the capability to carry missiles.
The UAVs are used to monitor enemy movement and strike designated targets.
Late last month, California's GAAS said it won U.S. approval for an "export version" of the Predator that sets the company up for its first Middle East sale.
Previously, sales have been allowed only to NATO countries, Japan, Australia and New Zealand.
"There's interest from Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates," GAAS President Frank Pace said at last month's Farnborough Air Show near London.
The price of the contract to Pakistan wasn't disclosed but analysts have estimated a 10-vehicle Predator system, with ground stations and software, would cost around $400 million. A single Predator vehicle would cost between $4 million and $15 million depending on surveillance equipment and weapons.
More than about 430 Predator-series drones have been sold, mostly to the U.S. government.
The company had approached the U.S. State Department for a license to begin negotiations for a sale to Pakistan and other Middle East countries.
Potential Middle Eastern sales are as much as 100 units of the weapon-less Predator XP model approved for export, Pace said. "Saudi Arabia is a huge country and, if they want to cover the country well, they alone could get 50 aircraft."
After meeting Indian Defense Minister A. K. Antony and National Security Adviser Shivshankar Menon, Flournoy said the United States was aware of Indian concerns over arms sales to Pakistan. The United States would monitor how the weapons are used in ongoing counter-terrorism operations.
"We are mindful of things which will undermine regional stability,'' she said.
In September 2006 the Defense Security Cooperation Agency notified Congress of the proposed sale combat Predator-B drones to the United Kingdom, a sale that eventually went through making Britain the first overseas buyer of the vehicle.
U.K. troops use the Predator in their Afghanistan operations.